British Brigadier Attacks America's John Wayne Generals
by Thomas Harding for the Telegraph
April 21, 2006
A senior British officer has criticised "shoulder-holster" American generals for trying to emulate film stars. Brig Alan Sharpe, who worked alongside Americans in Baghdad, said there was a "strong streak of Hollywood" with officers trying to portray themselves as Sylvester Stallone or John Wayne.
He wrote the comments in a paper on Britain's influence on US foreign relations and the essay is likely to strain the "special relationship" further, coming after other British officers' criticism of the American approach. An important part to being a successful American officer was to be able to combine the "real and acted heroics" of Audie Murphy, the "newsreel antics" of Gen Douglas MacArthur and the "movie performances" of Hollywood actors, the brigadier wrote. While this might look good on television at home, the brigadier suggested that "loud voices, full body armour, wrap-around sunglasses, air strikes and daily broadcasts from shoulder-holster wearing brigadier-generals proudly announcing how many Iraqis have been killed by US forces today" was no "hearts-and-minds winning tool".
But US officers he is working with as commander of British Forces in the Balkans will not be impressed by references to the early US regime in Iraq as "autocratic" and an "interim dictatorship". By contrast British servicemen, although under-equipped, were "undemonstrative, phlegmatic and pragmatic", patrolled on foot where possible and were keen to interact with locals. Arguing that the Army's 500 years of experience gave it a marked edge over the Americans in insurgency operations, Brig Sharpe said the senior British officers in Baghdad should continue with their moderating influence.
Rather than Britain punching above its weight it should "stand in the corner, with a bucket and towel, advising the undisputed heavyweight champion about who and how to fight". He referred to America as a "hyper power" in the paper, written during a year-long course with other leading military figures from around the world, run by the Royal College of Defence Studies. Brig Sharpe said the most effective way of passing on British experience was to place capable officers "with a feel for the British way of doing business" into positions of influence alongside American officers where they could "practically influence the decisions, plans and conduct on the ground of US adventures in world policing".
Tony Blair should not try to secure influence by providing "hollowed-out formations with little real capability". Brig Sharpe gave the "last word" to an anecdote about a "subjugated Iraqi" just before his release from detention. The Ba'athist was loudly lectured by an American officer, who was accompanied by a quiet British brigadier, on the dangers of returning to his "previously nefarious ways". As the Iraqi left he said: "Hey, Mr American, next time before you shout so much you should speak to him. He is British - they know how to invade a country." The Ministry of Defence said the thesis reflected Brig Sharpe's "personal views" but it was the object of the college course to "stimulate debate".